2012 Nissan Leaf – Going for An Electric Glide

2012 Nissan Leaf (teepee)

The Nissan Leaf is one of the only full electric cars that is available nation-wide. While there are several competitors on the market, the Leaf is the only mass-produced electric vehicle from a major automaker that can be purchased at "regular car prices" nationally. Since the Leaf's debut, it has largely enjoyed exclusive ownership of the pure EV market in North America with little or no direct competition.

The manufacturer says

Inside the city, the Nissan LEAF® gets the equivalent of 106 miles per gallon. That's right, 106 miles per gallon. How does it achieve these remarkable numbers? With a 100% electric drive system powered by an advanced lithium-ion battery. That system also gives it instant torque off the line, a top speed of about 90mph, and an estimated range of up to 100 miles on a full charge.

Specs:

  • Manufacturer: Nissan
  • Year, Model: 2012 Leaf SL
  • Class, Type: 4-door hatchback
  • Propulsion system: Electric
  • Vehicle range: 73 miles
  • Fuel(s): Electricity
  • Time to refuel: 8 hours 220V, 480V fast-charge available
  • Base Price: $36,020*
  • MSRP as tested: Unknown
  • Availability:
  • Nationally, usually on back-order

*Not including tax incentives, delivery, etc.
**No Monroney sheet was available for the car we tested.

Overview

The Leading, Environmentally-friendly, Affordable Family car (LEAF) is the first mass-produced battery electric vehicle (BEV) from a major automotive nameplate to sell in large quantities nationally and world-wide. For now, it is the standard upon which many other EVs are expected to be judged and compared. In that respect, it is a unique car that literally has no direct competition. For that reason, comparisons are really moot and always employ a lot of caveats. For fuel efficiency and cost of ownership comparison, the Nissan Versa is the closest model in the company's lineup and is the one most often used by the press.

Nissan changed a few things in the Leaf for 2012, adding some amenities that were basically standard considering how often they were added or requested by buyers of the 2011 model. Heated seats and steering were top amongst those, with these normally luxury items being considered a requirement for their battery-sipping qualities in an all-electric car. The Leaf is available in two base packages, the SV and SL trim levels. The SL is the higher trim which adds a rear view monitor, solar panel spoiler, fog lamps, and automatic headlamps.

The most striking thing about the Leaf is that it's one of the most-recognized electric vehicles on the road. People on the street recognize the car for what it is almost immediately, a trait which the Leaf shares with the Chevrolet Volt. The design is hit-and-miss with people, with some hating it and some liking its relative uniqueness. The interior is well-made and somewhat refined, though not luxurious by most standards. Being a "FutureCar", of course, the Leaf shares connectivity with gadgets and devices well – a trait now common with nearly all alternative vehicles. For the driver, it is a comfortable ride with a well-laid interior that is intuitive towards normal use. In the back, things are a litlte cramped, though headroom for someone over 6 feet is adequate. Leg room is slim, and measurements show it is underneath similar-sized competition at only 31 inches (maximum). Cargo space is good for a car this size, but not exceptional.

The actual driving of the car is beautiful. After some time in the seat and in traffic, the newness of the electric drive train (and the eco-driving response this intuitively demands) wears off, and the car is driven like any other vehicle, it is a comfortable, smooth experience. Immediately off the line, it has a lot of pep and vinegar, but as you accelerate, it dampens to something akin to most economy cars at around 9 seconds for the 0-60mph burst. The low-sling of the batteries offset the relatively benign suspension and the ultra-responsive electric-assist power steering is a real joy.

Range on the car is heavily dependent on accessory use and driving style. The car was received fully charged, but depletion was fairly rapid due to the use of air conditioning and navigation/stereo. With all this, however, it was able to get more than 70 miles on the first charge and an overnight charge sufficed to give another morning of continual in-town driving without the "range anxiety" you hear about.

The Nissan Leaf is definitely tuned to people who drive in specific conditions. For longer-range driving and those who spend a lot of time at highway speeds, this car may not be a good choice. Although not tested, it can be assumed that the low-rolling resistance tires (from experience) will not do well in inclement weather, but the low-slung weight of the car could help. One very weak point in the Leaf is its lack of thermal management for the batteries, which have meant complaints from customers living in high-temperature areas due to battery loss and possible early degradation. Extreme cold would have the same effects.

What we like

An excellent first entry as an EV for the masses, with a lot of "everyday appeal" along with just enough unique "coolness" added in its design to catch the eye as being something unique. For the price and capability, the Leaf is a good first-try EV for the mass market.

Nicely arranged, the interior of the Leaf is well-appointed and geared towards the everyday driver rather than being something too-futuristic and meant for showrooms rather than owners. Access and control is great and the ride is nicely balanced for comfort on a daily basis.

What we don't

Lack of battery thermal management is a real concern and may seriously undermine this car. It's likely that the 8-year warranty offered on the battery may see a few takers in the next handful of years and is the biggest detriment to the Leaf's potential range for those who do not live in always-moderate (i.e. "California") weather.

Expensive to own compared to its nearest gasoline counterpart, the Versa. Multiple comparisons have shown that the "break even point" for the Leaf versus the Versa, at today's gas prices, is over 7 years or longer. At which point the battery's warranty would be nearly gone and the resale value for the Leaf may plummet. Time will tell on these points.

Conclusions

For the market it's meant for, which are urbanite and suburbanite drivers and commuters, the Leaf is an excellent choice. Those who live in areas with extreme temperature variance (Southwest and Northern states) may not want to take the risk with the Leaf's unmanaged batteries. As an everyday driver for those whom the car is meant for, however, the Leaf is a great vehicle. It's silent operation and nice glide are a testament to EV's greatest assets.

Test Period Length and Limitations
Test period was about 24 hours with a total of 127 miles of driving in varied conditions. Car was a rental offered gratis with no other incentive given, and driven in a town unfamiliar to the driver.

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